The Bucket List. Dealing with the Stress of Law Practice.
Updated: Jul 18, 2019
If you practice law, I don't need to tell you that it can be a stressful profession. According to the American Psychological Association, attorneys are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers. As far as professions go, attorneys rank 11th when it comes to suicide rates. It's no surprise. You have chosen a profession that places the despairs of others squarely on your shoulders. Clients come in their darkest hour of need. Depending on your area of expertise, it is up to you to save them from getting locked up in prison, losing their home, guiding them through the break up of their marriage, saving them from deportation, or a host of other life changing problems. It is a daily revolving door of people asking for your help.
I always wondered how my dad did it. Despite all the responsibilities piled onto my father, I don't remember ever seeing him stressed. He came from a different generation. You didn't go to the doctor. You didn't complain. You worked. He spent his life working six days a week in a factory to give his children a better life. He worked his fingers to the bone with the hope that one day he would retire and spend his golden years with my mother. The plan was for my parents to spend their retirement years crossing items off their bucket list. They were going to take an Alaskan cruise or lounge on the beaches of Tahiti. Unfortunately he didn't make it. He would die from a heart attack.
The loss of my father put things in perspective for me. Was I spending all of my time working? I was spending my weekends and late evenings in the office. When was I going to start scratching things off my own bucket list? I decided I wasn't going to wait until I was too old to enjoy them. I would take a lesson from my father. Work hard but take a moment to enjoy the fruits of your labor. To honor my dad, I set off to cross items off my own bucket list. Life was about to become a little less stressful.
LEARN TO COOK On most Saturdays, I would spend the day in the office meeting with clients. I convinced myself that the extra day gave me an advantage over competing law firms. My dad worked weekends for 40 years in a factory. What kind of example would I set if I couldn't spend a Saturday behind a nice cushy desk. After my dad died of a heart attack, I decided it was important to find a good balance between work and life. My wife found us a cooking class that met on a Saturday. As funny as it sounds, it was a great stress reliever. It was a simple reminder that there was more to life than legal briefs and billable hours. Crossed off the bucket list: Learn to make crab cakes.
TAKE DAY-CATIONS Of course with both my wife and I being lawyers, we couldn't take off on week long vacations whenever we felt like. Instead, we would pick one day a weekend where we would take a little stress relieving day trip. These trips were usually just a few hours from our home. They might be to a local beach or a trip to the meccas of New York City and Boston. We did touristy things as if we were on a week long trip. I went to college and lawschool in New York. It wasn't until my little day trip that I actually visited the Empire State Building. We took a drive down to Atlantic City to enjoy the Boardwalk and to play the slots. We drove up to Boston and took a duck tour. We explored different beaches in Rhode Island, Block Island, and Long Island. I found these "breaks" actually gave me more drive at work. They helped me think clearer. Sometimes you just need a little break to function at your best. Crossed off the bucket list: Eat a Caesar Salad in Caesars Palace.
RENT YOUR DREAM CAR My family's roots are in Poland. Every few years, we travel to visit aunts, uncles and cousins in the Polish countryside. Most years we pretty much do the same thing. This year would be different. Before we headed back to the US, we found some inexpensive plane tickets from Warsaw to Nice, France. For less than $100, we took a plane to the French Riviera. For about 16 dollars, we then hopped on a train to spend the day in Monaco. Walking along the marina filled with super yachts, a man asked me if I wanted to rent his Ferrari. As a kid, I had a Ferrari poster on my wall. I never missed an episode of Magnum. Did I want to borrow his Ferrari? Of course I did. I drove his F-1 Formula Ferrari through the streets and tunnels of Monte Carlo where they held their annual Grand Prix. I took winding roads and hairpin turns in the mountains overlooking Monaco. It was the same road that Princess Kelly lost her life. It was the same road James Bond raced down as he was chased by a red Ferrari. It was an experience I haven't shut up about even a year later. I looked for ways to mention my Ferrari experience into every conversation. It drove my wife crazy.
That wouldn't be my only James Bond experience in Monaco. I had to end the day at the Monte Carlo Casino and order a Vodka Martini. Shaken, not stirred...of course. I bought a Ferrari coffee mug in a gift shop and jumped on the bus back to reality. Crossed off the bucket list: Rent a Ferrari and have a Vodka Martini in the Monte Carlo Casino
APPEAR IN A MOVIE There was a time in my life that I wanted to be an actor. In highschool and college, I took part in plays. I took acting classes. Somewhere along the way, the dream was deferred by a practical reality. What were the chances of me really making it onto the big screen? Law was the alternative. I could still act. It would just be in a courtroom. A film company was planning to shoot a Lifetime Christmas movie in New Britain, Connecticut. It would star Mario Lopez and Melissa Joan Hart. I always wanted to be in an movie. Was this my chance? I hesitated. I was an attorney. How would that look to my clients? I shouldn't be wasting time with such frivolity. Then I received a call from the director of the film. He was looking for a polka band for the film's carnival scene. When I asked what type of instruments the director needed, he remarked that it didn't matter because the band would only be pretending to play. I thought of my bucket list. When would I get the opportunity again? You only live once. I called up my old highschool buddy who was now a school teacher. Could you get us some instruments? I grabbed some friends that included a local restaurant owner, a court victim's advocate, a marine biologist, and a real estate developer. I ordered some red vests and called the director. I found your band. Crossed off the bucket list: Appear in a movie
SEE YOUR FAVORITE BAND BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE When asked what band would you love to see before they retire for good, I know I should give an answer like the Rolling Stones. Nevertheless, I am a child of the 80s. I grew up on WWF wrestling, the A-Team and glam rock. As a Junior High kid in 1987, the band I dreamed of seeing was Def Leppard. Their name looked so cool on my school book covers. They didn't know how to spell deaf or leopard. The drummer had one arm. They were my idols. When I heard that Def Leppard was coming to the Mohegan Sun Casino, I surprised my wife with tickets. It was a surprise because she couldn't care less about the band.
To show I'm not completely devoid of culture, we also went to see Placido Domingo perform at the Metropolitan Opera. Like Michael Corleone in Godfather III, I had box seats. Of course, this performance did not end with poisoned cannolis or Sophia Coppola getting whacked on the steps of the opera house. Crossed of the Bucket List: See Placido Domingo perform live Now, I know what you're thinking. Some of these suggestions are ridiculous. Fly off to Monaco? Rent a Ferrari? Sneak onto a movie set? Was this post just an excuse for you to brag about renting a Ferrari? Everyone's bucket list is different. The point is take time to enjoy life. The practice of law is stressful. Don't let it consume you. Schedule a little time for your sanity and your general health. Make time for a little fun. Start crossing things off your bucket list while you can still enjoy them. (And rent "A Very Merry Toy Store" starring Mario Lopez and the Nutmeg Lawyer. Available now on Amazon). Granted, stress is no laughing matter. Learning how to make crabcakes will not be the solution to all of your problems. The great thing about having a law degree is the ability to change your job. If you find working in corporate law too stressful consider working at a solo firm. Criminal law too stressful? Consider a different area. Of course, if you have serious issues with anxiety or depression, I encourage you to seek professional guidance through a mental health professional. Some More Items Crossed Off My Bucket List include: